Archive for Saturday, October 24, 2009

Lawrence must work to regain economic momentum

October 24, 2009


Lawrence city leaders recently received a detailed report on the Lawrence economy and the local job market. It wasn’t a rosy report, and Lawrence Mayor Rob Chestnut said, “All this continues to emphasize the need to diversify our economy. I think it is underplayed that Lawrence would be a great community for more professional and regional office jobs.”

Lawrence has suffered significant job losses in numerous categories with “accommodation” and “food services” fields taking the largest hits.

In years past, Lawrence was looked upon as a leader in attracting new industry and business. Young men and women living elsewhere in Kansas, or throughout the country, actively contacted local residents to inquire about job opportunities and to see whether any Lawrence business owners might be looking for able, enthusiastic young people who would like the opportunity to buy into the firm.

Lawrence was a place where young people wanted to live. Kansas University was a large draw, as were many “livability” factors. Also, the nearness of Kansas City and Topeka, along with the bright outlook for Lawrence’s future made this an exciting place to live.

Unfortunately, this feeling of enthusiasm and optimism seems to have died down. Lawrence is not the “hot spot” that it was in past years. Lawrence continues to be a great place to live, but the spirit and enthusiasm have dimmed.

Just recently, a group of downtown business owners and operators gathered to discuss what could be done to revitalize and strengthen the downtown area. There has been concern about the growing number of restaurants and bars in the area as opposed to new or expanded retail businesses. Lawrence Chamber of Commerce leaders are trying to get a handle on what needs to be done to kickstart the economy, promote and develop sound growth and help create new jobs. The chamber is organizing a well-planned program Thursday night to zero in on these challenges.

Many people are becoming increasingly concerned about what appears to be a stagnant Lawrence. And they yearn for past years when KU played a strong role in the city’s growth.

In years past, officials of the Kansas Department of Commerce, as well as in other state offices, were quick to recommend Lawrence to out-of-state companies looking for possible building sites in the state. It was a good relationship! Lawrence officials were able to present good, solid cases for Lawrence as an ideal location. Members of the site selection teams were pleased with what they saw and learned about Lawrence, making Kansas officials who recommended the city look good.

Unfortunately, in recent years, Lawrence has been unable to provide good sites for a number of prospective manufacturing or warehouse companies. We don’t have a sufficient stockpile of land zoned for business and/or industrial development, lots that can accommodate large operations.

A recent story in the Topeka Capital-Journal told of current efforts by Topeka leaders to acquire additional sites for industrial development. Members of Topeka’s Joint Economic Development Organization and a private group called Go Topeka have done an excellent job of putting together various “park” sites for development. The city approved a tax plan several years ago that has provided millions of dollars for economic development, and part of this has been used to acquire large sites for industrial development.

Topeka officials say they are in fierce competition with Wichita, Oklahoma City and Little Rock, Ark., which also are on the “short lists” of places where companies consider locating operations that create new jobs. Other top competitors, according to Topeka officials, include Columbia, Mo., Springfield, Mo., and Jonesboro, Ark.

Where is Lawrence in the picture? Not too many years ago, Topeka residents and officials complained Lawrence was landing more attractive industry and business than Topeka and that something needed to be done to get Topeka into a strong, effective competitive position.

These days, Topeka officials told the newspaper, they are at a disadvantage because they don’t have enough available industrial space in Topeka or Shawnee County. They report Wichita has 1,500 available industrial acres; Columbia, Mo., 957 acres; Springfield, Mo., 498 acres; Jonesboro, Ark., 1,280 acres; Little Rock, Ark., 2,599 acres; and Oklahoma City, 315 acres. Topeka has 125 available acres and should have 919 acres if it is to be competitive with other cities.

Lawrence has 123 acres of land ready for industrial development.

Even though Lawrence is a great place to live, is there any question why the city seems to be off the beaten path of site selection officials looking for ideal building locations for a wide range of companies? Its inventory of good, shovel-ready sites is poor. Along with this is the reputation of Lawrence being a difficult and costly place to build. These two factors handicap Lawrence and its efforts to attract industry and businesses with well-paying jobs.

The Lawrence of today is paying the price for the Lawrence of yesterday, when the no-growth philosophy was so dominant. It will take some time, and leaders with courage and vision, to allow Lawrence to recover and regain its position as one of Kansas’ most progressive and leading cities.

According to the recent Topeka report, one of the things Lawrence must do, if it wishes to remain competitive, is to secure more well-located land for industrial development.


Randall Barnes 8 years, 7 months ago

According to the recent Topeka report, one of the things Lawrence must do, if it wishes to remain competitive, is to secure more well-located land for industrial development.


BigPrune 8 years, 7 months ago

American Eagle Outfitters was the first nail in the coffin.

Unfortunately, manufacturing-if there is any manufacturing going on in this world, is happening in third world countries. Chambers of Commerce only care about manufacturing, so they don't know what to do.

Lawrence needs to be bold and it needs to do something outside of the box, or another town nearby is going to get the business! I think we should be doing something dramatic that will bring in tourists from across the region and steal from the Legends.

Sunny Parker 8 years, 7 months ago

What about construction jobs? How many men are out of work in Lawrence? Painters, dry-wall, framers, electricians, etc.....

How many of them are behind in child support? It's a horrible cycle!

It's more important to create jobs like the above for men/women in their 30's - 60's!

Where are the jobs that Hussein promised?

jafs 8 years, 7 months ago

The fact is that most city commissions have been pro-growth, with the slight exception of the last commission.

It doesn't make sense to blame Lawrence's economy on a very small percentage of the city commissions.

LogicMan 8 years, 7 months ago

Finish clearing off the Co-op site, and offer it on the cheap for new industrial uses. It's too dirty to use for housing.

Here's an idea: since the site has lots of natural gas service, see if Westar, KCPL, KU, FMC, etc. wants to build a natural gas peaking plant on part of the site. A little noisy on late summer afternoons or when base-load plants fail unexpectantly, but otherwise not too intrusive.

Or maybe a big base load cogen plant, but with much more noise control.

Sunny Parker 8 years, 7 months ago

Again, check the unemployment numbers, which really don't show the true number of the unemployed!

Where are the jobs that the current president (choke) promised?

Where are they?

BigPrune 8 years, 7 months ago

jafs said "It doesn't make sense to blame Lawrence's economy on a very small percentage of the city commissions."

No, it makes perfect sense - they changed everything and ruined everything. They experimented on us, and failed miserably.

I noticed the Policy Research Institute was involved in a recent economic development seminar. The leaders of that which were in the tank with the Progressives. Positive information regarding Lawrence's economy was delayed for a whole year (a mistake or deliberate?) by the Policy Research Institute. This was when Lawrence surpassed the billion dollar threshold in retail sales about 10 years or so ago. The headline was one year late. Now, why was that? If the leaders of PRI were later supporters of the Progressive commisison that ruined our city, then should we the people be suspect and trust anything they say, especially when history tells us they have an agenda by supporting the past progressive commission that ruined our city? I would have to say, "Yes!"

geekin_topekan 8 years, 7 months ago

I just read a biography of DolphJr. and I must say that I have found a new and almost exciting respect for the man.I still think that he's a baffoon half the time but I admire his accomplishments.My hat is off to Dolph the mediaman.

Richard Heckler 8 years, 7 months ago

This town is controlled by the Chamber of Commerce and it is that organization and their commissioners who have been the decision makers for 23 out of the last 25 years.

Economic Growth Problems in Lawrence

The housing boom which was never sustainable created a high tax dollar bedroom community and inflated property values. And each home demands more tax dollars than they generate = more increases in taxes and user fees throughout the community.

Lawrence may have been thought to be "progressive" however that was only a facade. There is much resistance to a progressive community.

There is overstock of light industrial,office space and retail space = bad for business.

Some of the thriving college communities are so called " Green communities. There is much resistance in city hall to going towards green and green industries.

Lawrence taxpayers cannot afford anymore polluting industries or any industries that have had recent conflicts with the EPA. Polluting industries leave taxpayers holding the bag by filing bankruptcy. This tool has been around for years.

Tax abatements do not work because once the abatement period is met the far greater majority of industries leave town = tax abatements are unreliable. Sauer Danfoss is the latest example (1999-2009). There are plenty other examples.

People selling industrial real estate love tax abatements because they make big bucks off the sale on the backs of local taxpayers. Then local taxpayers get stuck making up the difference. Meanwhile our local library gets neglected.

Economic Growth Problems in Lawrence

Richard Heckler 8 years, 7 months ago

Also when consultants are paid fairly good money and some commissioners decide not to accept a decision simply because they disagree based on nothing more than personal opinion is not acceptable.

Placemakers was brought to town by request then paid $250,000 for their services. They left behind some very good ideas in addition to some unwanted news. 30% over built in retail based on their in town research yet some commissioners chose to ignore that fact based on no current research to counter that finding. Prof Kirk McClure basically provided the same findings.

Frankly it seems to me major policy issues should be put to the voters in order to maintain a bit of continuity. Policy should be set based on facts. Taxpayers need to be the final decision makers at the ballot box.

Frankly voting taxpayers ought to have the final say on matters related to new growth and on all new building projects. Taxpayers need to be the final decision makers at the ballot box.

Why is Lawrence appointing people to a Planning Commission who have no urban planning background/experience?

These are tools for making growth decisions which should be applied in a detailed fashion to specific applicants: Retail Impact Study Economic Impact Study Environmental Impact Study Traffic Impact Study Environmental Impact Study Cost of Community Services Study

Failing to use these tools creates anxiety, tax revenue problems and inflated tax bills to property owners. Whether or not one can afford whatever tax bills are submitted is not the issue.

I would rather see economic growth churning along at a slower, methodical pace thus maintaining property taxes increases at a normal cost of living rate of 4%.

In addition to a tighter healthy economic growth pattern which generates substantial tax dollars for our revenue cookie jars that would prevent sales tax, user fee and mill levy increases.

After 25 years of expanding the tax base what exactly is creating a need to reduce services,increase user fees and call for a sales tax increase? Is it bad management?

Economic Growth Problems in Lawrence

Richard Heckler 8 years, 7 months ago

* is a good reference for what could happen here.

  • Green Collar Employment is a key to Sustainability as well:

Green Collar jobs is a hot new industry that can work for communities who want to rebuild their economies.

Green Collar jobs are exploding into a billon dollar industry:

When has anyone promised to bring green jobs? Certainly no one on our local front. As a matter of reference: is a good reference for what could happen here.

John Edwards 2008

Green Collar Industries are the wave of the future. Lawrence,Kansas should not waste time in seeking out these industries many of which are quite practical. Early birds get the worms.

Richard Heckler 8 years, 7 months ago

America’s 10 greenest cities for those of us who want to keep the earth blooming.

A better job awaits in one of these beautiful metropolises.

  1. Austin, Texas Austin has taken a proactive approach in developing green energy power sources. Austin also leads the rest of the United States in wind power and biodiesel production. The city hopes to soon convert some of its vehicles to hybrids.

Local leadership has developed plans to be the most energy-efficient city in the nation by 2015. If you are looking for a zero net-energy capable home for your family, come to Austin, where all newly built homes will meet that standard in the next few years

  1. Berkeley, California Berkeley has a high population density, but area residents have used this fact to their advantage in their efforts to expand pedestrian and bike commuting. U.C. Berkeley has helped the area to expand clean-technology and will continue to do so in the coming years.

  2. Boston, Massachusetts Boston, Massachusetts leads the nation in many green initiatives. One area in South Boston soon hopes to generate its own power by utilizing the used cooking oil from area restaurants.

  3. Chicago, Illinois Chicago leads the Midwest in developing recycling programs and other environmentally conscious initiatives. The city promotes green building and buys renewable energy. Millions of visitors and residents utilize the public transportation system, which helps to reduce hazardous emissions.

  4. Minneapolis, Minnesota Minneapolis has begun to utilize renewable energy and encourage the construction of green buildings. The city has also enacted simple solutions – such as changing how utility fees are charged – to encourage all citizens to reduce their environmental impact.

Richard Heckler 8 years, 7 months ago

  1. New York, New York New York uses its population density to its advantage. Only half of New Yorkers have cars and citizens in general use less power than the average American. The city’s proximity to the Atlantic and compact design require that it aid the fight against global warming.

  2. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Philadelphia monitored urban sprawl carefully, which allows almost a third of its citizens to commute via public transportation. Over 1,500 Philadelphia residents purchase clean power and the city supports citizens who want to generate their own.

  3. Portland, Oregon Portland has hundreds of miles in bike paths and many citizens who use them. Portland was the first American city (in 1993) to enact a Global Warming Action Plan and continues efforts to reduce the use of fossil fuels.

  4. San Francisco, California San Francisco supports a successful recycling plan but has also introduced a composting program that fuels alternative-energy cars and trucks. San Francisco also became the first city in America to ban the use of petroleum-based plastic shopping bags in grocery stores, opting for biodegradable or paper bags instead.

  5. Seattle, Washington Seattle has encouraged area businesses to aid its environmental efforts via the Seattle Climate Partnership. The city is also spending over $30 million in the coming years to be the best bicycling community in the country.

Richard Heckler 8 years, 7 months ago

24.5 acre Green Roof

=================================== 50 Greenest Cities(Kansas City made this list)

America's 50 Greenest Cities Want to see a model for successful and rapid environmental action? Don't look to the federal government—check out your own town. Here, our list of the 50 communities that are leading the way. Does yours make the cut? By Elizabeth Svoboda, with additional reporting by Eric Mika and Saba Berhie

How the Rankings Work:

We used raw data from the U.S. Census Bureau and the National Geographic Society’s Green Guide, which collected survey data and government statistics for American cities of over 100,000 people in more than 30 categories, including air quality, electricity use and transportation habits. We then compiled these statistics into four broad categories, each scored out of either 5 or 10 possible points. The sum of these four scores determines a city’s place in the rankings. Our categories are:

  • Electricity (E; 10 points): Cities score points for drawing their energy from renewable sources such as wind, solar, biomass and hydroelectric power, as well as for offering incentives for residents to invest in their own power sources, like roof-mounted solar panels.

  • Transportation (T; 10 points): High scores go to cities whose commuters take public transportation or carpool. Air quality also plays a role.

  • Green living (G; 5 points): Cities earn points for the number of buildings certified by the U.S. Green Building Council, as well as for devoting area to green space, such as public parks and nature preserves.

  • Recycling and green perspective (R; 5 points): This measures how comprehensive a city’s recycling program is (if the city collects old electronics, for example) and how important its citizens consider environmental issues.

See the the full list below:

Richard Heckler 8 years, 7 months ago

Top 10 Green College Towns Earth-conscious college towns consider elements like sustainable energy use, green space and design, public health, recycling programs, and more.

College Towns Going Green Whether a student wants to live close to the green policies they study, or simply aspires to support a city with carbon-neutral goals, college towns across the country are ready to accommodate their needs. Check out these ten cities that have surged ahead of the environmental curve.

  1. Eugene, OR. Over 85% of Eugene's power derives from hydroelectric and wind resources. Students at local schools can also appreciate the bike-friendly commute and work opportunities with local sustainable businesses.

  2. Austin, TX. Live music isn't the only draw for college students in Austin, which houses an inexpensive mass transit system. The city's local colleges and universities often host environmental and sustainable business summits, drawing discussion from around the world.

  3. Portland, OR. Over a quarter of Portland residents rely on bicycling, carpooling, or public transportation to get to work. The city additionally composts residential yard waste and food scraps from businesses and dormitories.

  4. St. Paul, MN. Affordable sustainable housing is a perk in this large city. Students of local colleges enjoy environmental studies with a real impact, often completing internship work at environmentally conscious local businesses.

  5. Berkeley, CA. California's long history of progressive environmental thought extends to its college towns. Students in this thriving locale enjoy over 20 community gardens and participate in one of the city's many environmental organizations.

  6. Honolulu, HI. Protecting the environment isn't the only perk of living in paradise, but it is a big draw. Students can enjoy the clean air and pure water of one of healthiest cities in the nation.

  7. Huntsville, AL. Unique environmental practices increase the appeal of this southern college town, where all water runoff is bio-filtered before reaching the aquifer. Also, a third of city land is dedicated to green spaces.

  8. Denver, CO. Students love the light rail system, which stops at many local colleges and provides an efficient alternative to driving. New solar installations should further increase the city's renewable energy supply.

  9. Cambridge, MA. Local colleges integrate organic food service into their cafeterias and energy conservation into their campus buildings. Furthermore, many construction projects in the area are making the switch to sustainable practices.

  10. Albuquerque, NM. A citywide commitment to sustainable living pulls students to this college town, where a smoking ban keeps local air cleaner, and pollutants to groundwater and landfills are closely monitored.

Hudson Luce 8 years, 7 months ago

Hey, Merrill's posts are a lot more informative than the usual one-liners that comprise most of the posts here. The critics should answer back in kind, providing details and links.

Lawrence is a college town whose businesses largely cater to college students, faculty, and staff. KU is a state school, and gets most of its money from the state. Kansas is in financial straits, and if there's a double dip, or a loss in value for the dollar (which impacts foreign trade), the situation will get worse. This means layoffs, and cuts in pay for State employees, and tuition increases. Already, students have less money to spend on retail items, leading to closure of retail stores.

Rents on Massachusetts Avenue remain sky-high, and with margins steadily shrinking, more stores will close, leading to a higher vacancy rate. One of the draws for Lawrence is its downtown, and lots of vacant storefronts give it a bad image. Rents must decrease so stores can make money and stay viable. The city should condemn the Masonic Temple and take it and sell it to a developer who will use it for businesses, as well ast storefronts which been vacant for, say, three years.

The price of housing remains high, and if gasoline prices go up due to loss in value of the dollar, pressure will again be on for people to move closer to their jobs in Kansas City and Topeka, which may result in local banks getting put on the FDIC Problem Bank list. This can happen in a falling real estate market where sellers are under water, or are foreclosed upon and have a deficiency judgment, and the bank is unable to sell the home at a reasonable price. There is already one local bank on that list, and it's due to overexposure to construction loans and real estate loans which have gone into default.

Lawrence never has had much manufacturing; Topeka and Kansas CIty have far better rail service, and that's where manufacturing has gone. If Lawrence wants to have industrial parks for manufacturing, there's not only the Farmland Industries plant site, but there's also the land between it and the East Hills Business Park, bounded roughly by E 1575 Rd and Noria Rd on the west and east, and by K-10 and the railroad tracks on the south and north, respectively. It looks like there's nearly a section of land there which could be used for light industry. If the city were to take the failed Tanger Mall (and the land north of I-70 to US-24) by declaring it blighted, and redeveloping it into an industrial park for light or medium industry, there's probably 320 more acres available, with rail access, via spurs and sidings. This would involve no sacrifice of bottomland, since it's probably already a brownfield and not suitable for agriculture.

There are steps which can be taken to help Lawrence, but it'll involve stepping on toes of established interests which make their money from things being the way they are. I don't see the City doing this, so I predict more in the way of a downward spiral.

WilburM 8 years, 7 months ago

Let's get this straight. Topeka as a model for Lawrence. With a dysfunctional downtown, a high crime rate, disappearing industries, a governmental structure that provides no leadership?

I wonder if Dolph has been to Topeka lately and felt that great surge of energy over there. Lawrence has its problems, but it has a lot of strengths to build on -- and Topeka is no model at all.

jafs 8 years, 7 months ago


Why do downtown rents remain unreasonably high when businesses have such difficulty there?

Wouldn't supply/demand theory predict that rents will/should come down?

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